What Is Your Definition of Good?

Today it’s the question of what to do with refugees.

In the past it’s been guns, race, homosexuality, religion, welfare… the list it seems is endless – the list of topics and questions that divide us sharply as a society, the ones that surprise me because the answers always feel obvious to me.

Let’s stick with the refugees for a moment.

The question on everyone’s minds and tongues and status updates: how do we respond to the millions of people fleeing Syria in search of refuge?

There are concerns about resources: is there enough to go around?

There are concerns about safety: how do we know “bad guys” aren’t sneaking in who will someday harm us?

I understand having these concerns. I understand a primal instinct to hoard and protect; it’s the same instinct that makes toddlers bad sharers.

But whenever these instincts rise up in myself, I inevitably am struck by a desire to be a better version of myself for my kids. Who do I want my kids to be? How do I want my kids to remember me?

be brave

I want them to be brave. I want them to be compassionate. I want them to be leaders and role models and beacons of goodness. The only way I know to teach them that is to show them that I at least try to be that person in real life, especially when the choice is hard.

I assume this is what every parent strives for.

I said as much on Twitter recently, and two friends almost simultaneously pointed out the fatal flaw in my reasoning: different definitions and metrics of goodness.

And I mean, DUH. Right? Obviously that’s where the differences occur; not everyone defines good the same. Obviously.

But holy crap do I have a hard time removing my own perspective blinders on this one. I mean, did everyone not grow up watching the same Disney movies and reading the same Little Golden books as I did? The lessons were pretty universal.

Don’t be an asshole.

Take care of people (or animals) in their time of need – especially if they are weaker or smaller than you.


Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Take care of people’s most basic needs no matter the personal cost or inconvenience.

That’s basically the message behind every viral news story, isn’t it?

Apparently it isn’t. It must not be. There must be very different definitions of goodness out there that I cannot comprehend.

And I’d like to understand. I really and truly would. Because I believe that every single one of us is trying to do the best we can within our own worldview, and so I’d like to more clearly see the worldviews of those who share on Facebook the stories of the heroism of Holocaust survivors but have no desire to welcome Syrian refugees.

What are these other definitions of good that I’m missing?


  1. daniel says:

    I subscribe to the Bill & Ted philosophy:

    Be excellent to each other.

    And party on, dude!
    daniel’s most recent post: Mutual Of Omaha’s Backyard Kingdom

  2. Rose Costas says:

    Thanks for this post reminding us what being human is all about. Love thy neighbors as thy self.
    Rose Costas’s most recent post: 7 Crucial Mistakes We Make Trying To Find Happiness

  3. Mark says:

    Hi Brit

    Such a great post. There are no evil nations or people, there are only the evil people telling us this. I used to work for an international charity and had this all the time- labels are dangerous – there are no refugees or immigrants, there are just people in need of help and compassion.

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